Mind the Gaps and Seal the Cracks
Insects typically aren’t out to get you. Most bugs are simply looking for shelter from the cold, a source of food and water, and a warm, dark place to spend the winter. Yet despite insects’ lack of malice, we’re not exactly overjoyed to find silverfish in our sink or spiders in our closet. Most pest-control experts will tell you that keeping insects out of your home in the first place is more than half the battle. To do this, you need to make a single-minded effort to seal all gaps and cracks in your home’s exterior and interior. As well, it’s important to eliminate excess moisture, especially in basements, attics, bathrooms, and kitchens, and to remove potential food sources by sealing all garbage, storing food in airtight containers, and being careful not to leave any food out. But even these tried-and-true methods won’t keep your home safe from all of the pesky fall invaders, especially these 10 tenacious houseguests.
Given their creepy-crawly appearance, centipedes are high on most people’s list of unwanted critters in the home. But you may be surprised to learn that these 30-legged insects aren’t necessarily bad to have around. They hunt other insects and spiders that, like them, head indoors in search of food and water, and warm, damp places to spend the winter. To keep them out, it’s essential to seal your home properly and prevent any moisture buildup. Beyond that, seek expert pest control if you notice an abundance of centipedes in closets, bathrooms, basements, or other areas.
If you’ve ever opened a sweater box and noticed tiny holes in your clothing, you may have silverfish. These small, wingless silver bugs feed off carbohydrates, simple sugars found in natural fibers like cotton, silk, and wood. They are also attracted to moisture, which is why you may see them in your tub or sink. You can spot treat for silverfish with an appropriate insecticide, and you can also treat their potential hideouts, such as storage boxes, kitchen cabinets, bathrooms, and basements.
The pleasant chirping of crickets is a sure sign that fall is on its way. Yet crickets inside the home quickly lose their charm. They not only disturb our sleep, but they also eat our clothing and breed rapidly. Species like greenhouse camel crickets look for warm, dark, moist spaces to multiply and can quickly take over basements and ground floors. Seal entry points, especially under the front, back, and garage doors, where they can easily hop in. If need be, set nontoxic traps to catch crickets that have already penetrated your home’s defenses.
Outside of entomologists and insect-obsessed kids, few people welcome the sight of spiders inside the home. Yearlong inhabitants of many homes, spiders of all varieties get a little stir-crazy come fall—their mating season—and literally come out of the woodwork in search of a mate. To discourage them from settling in your house, remove webs promptly, and turn off exterior lights at night. Lights attract insects, which in turn attract spiders searching for food.
These small, opportunistic bloodsuckers will hitch a ride on pretty much anything, including clothing, suitcases, and car upholstery. Once indoors, they can infest more than just your bed, hiding out in cracks and crevices in baseboards, walls, and electrical outlets. While their bites aren’t fatal, they are itchy and unpleasant, so you definitely want to avoid a full-on bedbug infestation, especially during the holidays, when people tend to travel more and stay in hotels. To keep bedbugs out of your house, inspect all mattresses before the first use, looking for dark brown spots (bedbug droppings). Whenever you return from a trip, look over your luggage carefully and wash your clothing in hot water. Always seek professional pest-control services if you suspect that bedbugs have come to stay.
While residents in at least 43 states are familiar with the brown marmorated stink bug, so called because of the smelly chemical excretion it produces when threatened, homeowners in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions are most impacted by these swiftly spreading pests. They become active in fall, emerging from their outdoor nests to seek shelter from the cold. Keep them out by sealing every point of entry to your home. Because these critters tend to cling to screens and curtains, pest experts recommend rubbing surfaces with a strongly scented dryer sheet, which can reduce stink bug presence by up to 80 percent.
Like stink bugs, box-elder bugs are harmless to people but produce a pungent odor when disturbed. Dark brown or black with red markings, these insects inhabit certain varieties of trees (box elder as well as maple and ash), but seek warmer nests in winter. They can appear in large numbers both inside and outside your home, so “prevention is key,” according to Chelle Hartzer, an entomologist and Orkin pest expert. She recommends spraying the exterior of your home with a residual insecticide, a pesticide that remains on a surface for a length of time and kills bugs that crawl over it. Spray your home in early spring and again in the fall, as these are the most active periods in their life cycle.
It’s not only bears that hibernate in winter. Cluster flies do too, seeking warm, dark places, like those found inside the walls of your home, to sleep away the cold months before reemerging in spring. Also called “attic flies,” they are known disease carriers and are capable of crawling inside the smallest of spaces. Again, prevention is key, so you’ll want to bug-proof your home by sealing every crack you can find. Pay attention to gaps in your home’s siding and roofing tiles as well as joints where the roof meets the walls, and don’t forget about screens and windows. You can also get your home professionally treated against cluster fly infestations.
Wikimedia Commons via Judy Gallagher
Of all insects, ladybugs may have the most benign reputation—they’re even a symbol of good luck! That said, several species of ladybug, like the spotted lady beetle and Asian lady beetle, seek refuge in our homes over the fall and winter, sometimes in large numbers. They prefer high-up places to nest: under siding and shingles; in attics, porches, and garages; inside walls; and in window and door frames. While proper sealing is a must, you may also wish to treat surfaces with a liquid residual pesticide. For more natural options, try diatomaceous earth (which dries out their exoskeletons), cloves and bay leaves (which repel them), and light traps (which attract them to a light source). When you spot ladybugs in your abode, sweep them up and release them. As a last resort, vacuum them up, but don’t crush them, which can emit a strong smell.
Western Conifer Seed Bugs
Most of us can appreciate the beauty of Christmas trees. But the bugs that feed off their sap? Not so much. The western conifer seed bug, one of those sap-sucking insects, is prevalent in the northern United States but has been expanding eastward as a result of climate change. Nearly an inch long and brownish in color, the insect produces a loud buzzing that can cause alarm, especially when a swarm seeks to spend the winter in your home. Though they won’t bite or sting you, western conifer seed bugs are extremely tough to exterminate, even with aggressive methods. Beyond sealing gaps around electrical boxes, sockets, switches, and light fixtures, spray exterior walls with a lasting residual insecticide in September to reduce the likelihood of an infestation. When applying insecticide, be sure to test a small patch first to make sure the chemical does not damage your house’s siding or paint, and always wear protective gear, including goggles, mask, and gloves.
When the temperature starts to drop, these common bugs find their way inside your house.
Get the help you need for the home you want—sign up for the Bob Vila newsletter today!